Could women be the answer to the IT skills gap?

Tracy Pound, CompTIA Board member and MD of MaximITy, pens a guest blog speaking about the struggles facing women in the IT industry and what can be done to get more women involved.

The IT & Tech industry is facing an unprecedented skills gap that could be detrimental to both business and the UK economy. It was reported by the Institute of Engineering and Technology that in 2015 the skills gap increased for the ninth year in a row. It isn’t a surprise that employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find the right talent, with many employers seeing this as significant threat to business.

One area that demands significant attention, is the appeal and diversity of the industry to women. Speaking last year at the Microsoft Future Decoded Conference in London, Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of noted that only 4% of the world’s engineers and 10% of technology company founders are women. It is clear that more work needs to be done and this could present an opportunity to plug some of the skills shortage. 

I have been in the IT industry for over 30 years, and am passionate about encouraging more girls and women to look at tech roles. This needs to be addressed, not only from a business perspective with women being given the opportunity to have more senior roles, but also at a grass roots level through education and STEM subjects in school. 

Why is getting females interested such a challenge?

I am not sure how much of the challenge is the misconception that IT is ‘geeky’? or that women can’t perform well enough at a senior level? – Unfortunately I do feel we still live in a society that thinks girls should be concentrating on hair and beauty courses. Of course it may be something else. It may be the language or imagery association to gender that we use. Or a mix of all these. Whatever it is, we need to be working harder to change this situation and aim towards gender balance. 

With my experience in the channel, I don’t understand why anyone should be put off a career in IT. It’s a career that’s served me extremely well for nearly 32 years now and will continue to do so for a few more to come.

I’ve been a programmer; setup and run a help desk without the support of RMM tools! I’ve installed graphics cards, printers, memory chips. I’ve punched cables into data cabs and wired RS232 connectors! I’ve installed Unix from scratch (64 floppy disks), networks, PCs, software and printers. It’s immensely interesting work to do. By the way I have long painted nails and wear heels – although I am sensible if I need to be crawling under desks! With such a wide range of roles available I am often perplexed as to why I don’t know a single female support technician anymore – This is wrong and its time this changed. 

These days my company, set up 16 years ago provides mainly training, consultancy and project management and we leave the really techy stuff to our MSP partner. But we’re still in IT! I’m not advocating that companies recruit or promote women for the sake of it. I’m advocating that companies ACTIVELY seek to interview women for tech roles and equally that women need to start applying for them.

At school, I was told I couldn’t study computing as I wasn’t good at maths. I fought really hard against this decision and ended up taking the options I wanted, not those that the school thought I should. A little determination can get you a long way, as does following your heart! I was one of only 2 girls who took metalwork instead of home economics too!! But I can still cook.

For young girls wondering what options to take, look at IT. Why not try a job in tech if you’re out of work or looking for a career change?

One of the huge benefits of our industry is that in many cases it will be your attitude that will determine how far you can progress. We can teach skills, but we can’t change mind-sets so easily. In my experience, IT companies are usually dynamic and responsive, they need people who will step up to the mark, be decisive, work well in teams, and have good interpersonal skills. All of the attributes women possess!

I would like to be clear, this doesn’t have to be a new suffragette movement or shift in the dynamic to a female bias, but moving the industry to a fair and balanced approach towards women, which by its nature, involves raising our profile, so that we get noticed and not passed by.

For male employers, perhaps you could think about the image you project and how welcoming this is for women. You could look at how you advertise for jobs and whether you use images that include women on your website and in your literature. You could go and speak at schools and colleges about your business and actively seek to encourage girls to consider IT.

For girls, look to broaden horizons and do your work experience at an IT company as well as jobs available in the sector. Parents also have a duty of care to encourage daughters to take tech options at school and install the belief that you can be whatever you want in life. 

In my career, I have managed to set up a run a successful IT business without the need for a nanny, or support bringing up my children, albeit I have a very helpful husband! – so the balance of family and career can be achieved. 

However, I am pleased to see change happening, and the channel is recognising the achievements and contributions that women make to the industry are being recognised, such as PCR “Woman of the Year”. I am also on the board of CompTIA (Computing Technology Trade Association) and work with them on driving an initiative called “Advancing Women in IT” to address all the challenges and start to educate young girls and women on the value of a career in tech. 

As tech workers/business owners we need to work together to create awareness and inspire women into the channel, as this could be one way to start addressing the challenges we all face around the skills gap. 

More information and resources on Advancing Women in IT

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